Rebel Yell, A victimless crime? Sex workers defend legal prostitution

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A victimless crime?

Sex workers defend legal prostitution

Published on September 20, 2007

“Criminalization of sex work and sex workers that are legal adults and consenting solves nothing,” said Jill Brenneman of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) East, an advocacy group for sex worker rights, at an online press conference Monday night.

The conference was held by workers and advocates of the sex industry as a rebuttal to the New York Times article written by columnist Bob Herbert, and a recent book-length report by Dr. Melissa Farley, a psychologist and researcher stressing that the sex industry in Las Vegas is responsible for the degradation of women and for sex trafficking.

Bound Not Gagged is a sex worker outreach project with a blog where participants include prostitutes, escorts, exotic dancers and pornography performers, and was developed by Desiree Alliance as an online resource for sex workers to respond publicly to those such as Farley and Herbert.

Farley’s book, Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connection, was published earlier this month through her organization, Prostitution Research and Education, and can only be purchased on her website. Farley was asked to study the consequences of the Nevada sex trade by John Miller, who was the former head of the U.S. State Department committee to fight human trafficking around the world.

The book details Farley’s findings of the working of the illegal sex industry within Las Vegas. Farley suggests that Nevada is the hub of North American prostitution and sex trafficking. She also suggests that those within the industry are exploited and the industry itself is harmful and dangerous to women.

“Women’s experiences working in the sex industry are far more complex and varied than [Farley’s] research or [Herbert’s] column suggest,” said Lynn Comella, UNLV assistant professor of Woman’s Studies. Many of the participants at Monday’s conference claim that Farley’s research lacks accountability because the research methods used by Farley discredits and misrepresents women working within the sex industry. She has been accused of “ignoring those who do not agree with her views.”

“I have never been able to fathom how [Farley] could claim such commitment to the protection of women without listening to the voices of the very women they claim to protect,” said Jessica Land, a sex worker, during the conference.

Sex workers’ rights was a highlighted topic, with many bloggers stressing for an end of criminalization involving consenting adults, entitled protection from coercion, violence, sexual abuse and child labor related to the sex industry.

In a statement written by SWOP East’s Brenneman, “critics will state that youth should not be in the sex industry, they are correct. However, this requires more than press releases, position statements and pusillanimous policies of government.” The statement goes on to say, “This is a social issue that has to be addressed at the source.”

Not all participants were proponents of the sex industry. A blogger by the name of “Josie” stated, “You do not have a right to do anything you want with your body in this country. There are other people involved and impacted by these decisions.”

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New Interviews With Nevada Brothel Workers

The controversy about the Nevada brothel system impelled a journalist to go and interview brothel workers herself. They, not her, refute Farley’s claims. They don’t go out of their way to paint a rosy picture. Their view tends to be one like a lot of workers — the job works for them but it’s not perfect. They like the potential money. They also like the freedom to do their job without the threat of arrest hanging over their heads.

Farley is quoted in the article as wanting to stamp out legal prostitution. I don’t have a problem with that — this is the perfect opportunity for Nevada to try some decriminalization.